The pitch for “Jennifer’s Body” is certainly attention-grabbing. Mix “Transfomer’s” sexpot Megan Fox and “Juno” screenwriter and all round “it’ girl Diablo Cody and the result should be pure gold. Well, pure gore splattered gold in this case. “Jennifer’s Body” leaves behind the world of giant robots and pregnant teens for a bloody story about demonic transference and a cheerleading succubus who feeds on the intestines of teenage boys.
Despite its name the town of Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota is not a demonic hot spot. Not at least until a rock band named Low Shoulder plays at a local bar. At the concert are Jennifer Check (Fox) and Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). Best friends since they were kids the underage girls are there to check out the band, and in Jennifer’s case, specifically the lead singer. When a fire breaks out in the bar, chaos ensues and as most of the concert goers are trapped inside, Jennifer and Needy make it out, but something is isn’t right. Jennifer is glassy eyed and unresponsive, and when Needy last sees her, in the band’s van. Later, when Jennifer comes back to visit Needy she isn’t so pretty anymore—unless blood covered, tar vomiting girls turn you on. Something has happened to Jennifer, but what? When boys from school start to go missing Needy thinks she might know…
“Jennifer’s Body” breathes the same air as the great Canadian horror film “Ginger Snaps.” Both are inventive takes on established horror mythology—in Ginger’s case it was the werewolf legend here it is demonic possession—both feature humor and lots of blood and guts. But—you had to know there was a “but” coming—where “Ginger Snaps” had effortless dialogue that sounded like real teenagers talking to one another, “Jennifer’s Body” is weighed down by the overly cute pen of Diablo Cody.
In Cody’s world teens talk as though they have Hollywood screenwriters feeding them lines. Oh wait! They do. They drop sparkling bon mots as easily as Dorothy Parker after her fifth martini in the Oak Room. Cody’s characters don’t get jealous, they get “jello;” they don’t feel ill they feel “boo hoo,” and when they curse they say things like “cheese and fries.” I’m all for inventive language but much of the dialogue here seems to be trying a bit too hard.
Cudos to Cody though for coming up with an inventive story and peppering the script with laughs. When she describes one of the creature’s victims resembling “lasgna with teeth,” when they found him it’s funny. It’s dark humor reminiscent of the horror comedies of the 1980s like “An American Werewolf in London” and “The Toxic Avenger” that covered the laughs with lots of red stuff.
At the heart of “Jennifer’s Body”—or should that be soul?—is Megan Fox. As the victim of a botched satanic ritual—they apparently don’t work if the sacrifice isn’t a virgin—she seems to be having more fun here than in either of the “Transformers” movies, but despite being this year’s Zeitgeist grabber she’s upstaged by Amanda Seyfried. Only in a movie like this could Seyfried be portrayed as the “dorky, plain girl.” I guess it’s because she wears glasses, but there is nothing dorky or plain about Seyfried or her character.
“Jennifer’s Body” is bound to grab a teenage audience—the gratuitous kissing scene between Fox and Seyfried alone is bound to sell tickets to many a seventeen-year-old boy—but despite being an enjoyable bit of fun, likely won’t have the same impact as Cody’s attention grabbing work on “Juno.”
If you‘ve been paying attention to the Critic’s Awards lists that are coming out all over the place these days you’ve probably noticed a name you probably aren’t familiar with popping up here and there. It’s Ellen Page, a young Haligonian who in recent months has become Hollywood’s “It-Girl.” You’ve glimpsed her in X-Men 3, maybe heard the buzz out of Sundance for Hard Candy and TIFF for The Tracey Fragments, but up until now it’s been hard to put a face to the name. Juno should change all that.
Directed by Thank You For Smoking’s Jason Reitman, Juno is an screwball comedy about a pregnant sixteen year old who decides to give up her baby to a young, seemingly perfect childless couple. Reitman, working from a script by the excellently named Diablo Cody, handles the material with the ease of someone who grew up around comedy—his father is Ghostbuster’s director Ivan Reitman.
Despite the hip and impossibly witty dialogue—almost every line sounds like a punch line and is so slick it threatens to teeter over into “so hip it hurts” territory—Reitman and Page manage to ground this story, keeping it funny but also injecting a goodly amount of humanity into the proceedings. That’s a good thing because when you have, for example, a convenience store clerk (played by Rainn Wilson of The Office) watching Juno shaking her pregnancy test and saying lines like: “That ain’t no etch-a-sketch. That’s one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet,” there better be strong grounding or the movie could degrade into a quirky Napoleon Dynamite wannabe and little else.
The movie’s secret weapon is Page who carefully portrays the spunky Juno MacGuff not just as a smart-mouthed teen who got herself in the family way by seducing her high school crush, but as a complicated young woman who uses her wit as a wall to protect herself from the harsh realities of life.
Bouncing off Page are Brampton, Ontario’s Michael Cera, fresh off his turn in the hilarious Superbad, playing the kind of sensitive teenager not often seen on screen and great supporting work by Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney. They’re all great, but make no mistake; this is Page’s movie from top to bottom.
At age 20 Ellen Page became a star playing Juno in the film of the same name. She was nominated for an Academy Award and would go on to make movies like Whip It and Inception, but first she took some time off.
“I studied permaculture, design and eco village development at a place called Lost Valley in Oregon with a lot of people who had the same philosophy — strictly freegan,” she says.
Freeganism, or the practice of salvaging discarded food, was just one of the things that fascinated Page during her month-long stay at the settlement.
The experience taught her to live more simply and to really think about her relationship with the planet. Her time there also prepared her for The East, a new eco-thriller co-starring Alexander Skarsgård and Britt Marling.
“On top of it being an incredibly beautifully written piece of work, there were so many ideas that I was very excited about and thinking about,” she says.
In the film she plays Izzy, a member of a shadowy group of eco-activists called The East — think a more hands-on version of real-life group Anonymous — who live by an anarchist eco code.
“We were able to talk about the experience I had and relate what that does to you as a person when you’ve been raised with this narrative given to us by the system that exists.
“Then you go experience something that completely flips everything on its head,” she says.
“That is a wild ride to go on. Then to walk back out into the world and society, you see things differently.”
It’s a way of life she thinks about daily.
“Every morning when I wake up and open my eyes I am unwillingly oppressing a lot of people and the environment to live in the privilege that I have—that we all have living in this area of the world. Not that everyone in this area of the world experiences that… and that’s a hard thing.”
“I think that is something a lot of people are dealing with right now and it is hard to know if running away to the woods and becoming a freegan is the best choice, or do we stay in the infrastructure we’ve inherited and do our best to create positive change? I don’t necessarily know the answer. Maybe I’m just being a selfish jerk.”